Be like water…


I never put much thought into the philosophy of Bruce Lee (or Bruce Lee in general, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen Enter the Dragon, but am about to change that), until I read an article in The Unbounded Spirit this week. It discusses the wisdom of the martial arts master, the philosophies that he espoused throughout interviews and film scenes from his prolific career. The first idea presented: “be like water.”

Our quest across Southeast Asia has been intentionally replete with water energy. We have experience something akin to spiritual transformation in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. We have swam in innumerable lakes and rivers, from the jade green waters of northern Vietnam to Cambodia’s Tonle Sap and on up the mighty Mekong. And through it all, we are always hunting for waterfalls. This corner of the globe is teeming with them, and renting a motorbike to drive to as many waterfalls as we can fit in a day is commonplace in our current journey across Asia. When we reach them, we watch as the water flows forth into a chasm of nothingness, and we bask in the wind that erupts as that water crashes into the deep emerald pools below. We climb rock-faces and vines up each tier, we bathe in the cool water, we let the pounding falls massage our tired bodies and we always make a point to meditate before the sacred mist of each and every one.

So when I read the article on Lee’s philosophy and he first advises to “be like water because it is soft, resilient, and formless. It can never be snapped,” I immediately brought this lesson into the next waterfall I saw. The next day at Katieng Waterfall in Ratanakiri Province of northeastern Cambodia, I paid special attention to the water’s journey down a peaceful river, swiftly swinging side to side around protruding boulders and outstretched tree branches from fallen trees, observed as the water rocketed towards an unforeseen precipice and tumbled to the pools that lie in wait below, filling up with every fallen drop and carrying downstream.

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle, you put water in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash…be water my friend.”

The water does not care whether it is drifting peacefully or barrelling into unseen depths. If we can train our minds to be like water, then no matter what unexpected circumstances come our way, no matter what obstacles we face and not matter how many times we may feel we are in an uncontrollable free-fall through life, we will maintain the resilience and flexibility to overcome adversity.

In my current journey of strengthening my meditative practice, inculcating the virtues of patience and acceptance into my life and my work, these wise words (from a pretty badass source) remind me to learn from each waterfall we visit, each time drawing from that energy and flowing through life. Formless, adaptable to any situation, flowing, crashing, becoming, being.

This is the sign of a Self that is in tune with the good of the Universe. A sign of a being free of the tumult of the egoic mind. This is the real Self, and it is waiting for all of us once we are ready to let go and flow into it.

In life, what more can you ask for than to be real? To fulfill one’s potential instead of wasting energy on [attempting to] actualize one’s dissipating image, which is not real and an expenditure of one’s vital energy. We have great work ahead of us, and it needs devotion and much, much energy. To grow, to discover, we need involvement, which is something I experience every day — sometimes good, sometimes frustrating. No matter what, you must let your inner light guide you out of the darkness.”

Thanks Master Lee.

*This blog was written to an unexpected and unplanned soundtrack of Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit” that came on poolside, and lakeside, here at our guesthouse in Ban Lung, Cambodia. Synchronicity. 



The Difference between You and I

I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I still have every single notebook, from those covered in Star Wars stickers to those covered in Ugandan kitenge fabric, from my very first square notebook decorated in cartoon images of the Easter Bunny to the ongoing journal file I keep with me on my computer when public blogging just doesn’t seem like the best idea for the idea at hand.

When I visit my childhood home in Sacramento, I will generally pick one at random, or with intention, and read from selected portions to observe the challenges I faced at the time and the thought patterns and tools with which I handled them. Sometimes as I’m journaling, I will make note of points in my past I want to revisit next time I have my growing library at my disposal.

Today as I wrote about my current explorations of meditation in the journal I keep on my laptop, I made note of the language I use while writing in a space that will only be seen by me, paying particular attention to my use of pronouns. I found that I use the pronouns “you” and “your” as much as I use the pronouns “I” and “my.” This struck me as odd. While speaking of myself in public spaces such as this blog, I will never refer to myself as “you” but always as “I.” When processing thoughts and ideas, this duality becomes very apparent, as I often use the 1st person for describing experiences, feelings, or thoughts about a particular subject, and use the 2nd person more for motivating myself, scolding myself, or trying to explain patterns in the way that I think, feel, act or behave.

This duality echoes the dual-self that Eckhart Tolle discusses in The Power of Now, wherein he describes a past experience of descent into a pit of despair. He writes of a memory of saying to himself, “I cannot live with myself any longer,” a statement which led him to a profound realisation and exploration of the dual nature of the egoic mind and a sort of higher Self. The ego is in stark opposition to the true Self, that which realises the infinite and eternal nature of existence and frees itself from the “drama” of the egoic mind. Looking back at my own writings, this is somewhat consistent with what I observed: I use the 1st person to describe both egoic perceptions as well as higher-level thinking, but I only seem to use the 2nd person when the Self that is reflecting from a higher space of consciousness needs to remind the ego-influenced mind that it is being manipulated and must break free of need, want, and resistance to the now.

It may all sound abstract or fluffy, particularly to those who have not read this book or have not discovered this school of thought through any number of teachers, both historic and contemporary, but this duality resonates with my incredibly overactive mind. Through meditation and increasingly dedicated personal spiritual practice (more on that in a blog soon to have its “now”), I am delving deeply into my own duality, beyond the incredible relatable parable of the feeding the right wolf. These mental and emotional excavations into the chronicling of my own past are helping me in that process, and I encourage all who dedicate themselves to the profound and transformational process of journaling to revisit their old selves, not to dwell in past pain or lament an ostensible lack of progress along certain personal goals, but to learn from our own history. On a macro and micro scale, it is an undeniable truth that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and each of us must actively fight against such cyclical self-destruction.

For those who find themselves only scolding in the 2nd person a separate version of themselves, don’t forget to send that self some words of inspiration as well.

We do love our sunsets…

Looking down on the main road overlooking Boeung Kan Seng Lake from Banlung Balcony Guesthouse, It’s rather troubling to think that Cambodians, and peoples all over the world, have been looking up at Westerners sitting atop such balconies with drinks in hand for hundreds of years. Just one of the many ways colonialism still manifests itself in so many corners of the globe…

These observations disturb us, stick in our minds and dominate our conversations. I don’t want to do a travel blog, but we travel with a critical, social justice oriented and historically informed lens, and it’s interesting to put some of it out there. More reflections to come on this blog, really must blow off the dust, and what better place to do it than the dustiest town in Cambodia, before we bus off to our next former French protectorate.

History does have a sort of repetitive feel to it don’t you think?

“He didn’t speak any English…”

Traveling around the world, you hear a lot of stories. Endless stories, from all corners of the globe. Stories from other travelers, stories from local people, stories from yourself as your own experiences solidify and are woven into your personal narrative.

Many stories that come from those who find themselves to be strangers in a strange land tend to revolve around some interaction with locals, and almost without fail, at some point will contain something akin to: “He/she didn’t speak any English.” The result is often a failure to order the right food, or a failure to catch the right bus or get the correct directions to a destination. It is always a storyline that distinguishes the object of the story as not living up to the expectations of the subject.

I find this to be quite telling. In each country I spend more than a layover in, from Spain to France, Uganda to Tanzania, Thailand to Vietnam, I do what any responsible traveler ought to and learn basic greetings, thank you’s, and some numbers to navigate transactions. This year in Southeast Asia I’ve tried my hardest to go beyond this and learn enough to have a simple conversation at least.

Unfortunately, most travelers don’t do this at all, and I’m always shocked in places like Thailand that hosts millions of tourists each year that people bring with them an expectation of locals speaking English. When they don’t, those locals get written into a narrative told to friends back home as characters who “didn’t speak any English.”

Regardless of whether this inability is viewed in a negative light, what’s striking to me is that we never use the words “I didn’t speak any [whatever the local language is].” This assumes that the “other” in the story is causing the story teller an inconvenience or some confusion because they don’t speak a foreign language (one that most English speakers erroneously assume everyone in the world understands at least a few words of), and not that the storyteller is causing themselves an inconvenience because they didn’t take the time to learn the language they needed to navigate the situation.

Stories can tell a lot about a person and how they engage with others. When the storyteller talks about their misadventure being exacerbated by another person failing to live up to their misguided assumptions, it perpetuates those assumptions to whoever is listening to the story. I’m guilty of this myself, but next time I tell such a story (or hear it), I hope I stop to think about how i bring a total stranger into my narrative. I feel like we should all try doing the same.


We arrived in Thailand on the evening of the cremation of the late, beloved King Bhumibol, one year after his death. We arrived in Vietnam on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, traversing the streets of Hanoi lined with the flags of its Communist Party and a standing statue of V.I. Lenin. And in the throes of my internal conflicts of being American in this place, with all of its brutal history, exactly one year to the day after his election to the Presidency, Trump makes his way to, of all places, Vietnam.

Timing is often wrought with both coincidence and imperceptible significance. Reflecting on this today, if not to find meaning where there is none to be found, at least to pause and acknowledge just how fascinating this world, and our timing within it, can really be.

Heed the Call

I awoke before dawn to a siren’s song.

The prolonged whoop lifted my ears from a state of silent yet overstimulating dreaming and, as my eyes flung open to the dim yellow of the inside of my tent, the concomitant reverberating holler gently floated them downwards into a lull. I laid on the hard ground and listened. Their melody pierced the innumerable sounds of the surrounding flora and fauna dancing in the rising morning wind and beckoned me to rise to the outside world. No need to shake the sleep from my weary eyes. I was awake.

The gibbons were calling.

My entire life has been dominated by a love of the natural world and for the vast diversity of life one can find in it if they can pry themselves from the stronghold of cities and urban life long enough to feel into its rhythm. Trees to me have always been places of worship, and the creatures that dwell in them fill me with an indescribable longing to climb, to explore, to play, to connect. But no creature had captivated my childhood imagination like the gibbon. To me they were as good as myth, ghosts in the canopies of far-flung jungles, vestiges of a natural order and keepers of a wisdom that has been forgotten by our kind since our ancestors decided it was time to divorce ourselves from the protection of the tree-tops and try our luck rooted in (and before long, uprooting) the earth below. Now, waking to their morning mantra in the crisp air of Khao Yai National Park in Central Thailand, I knew that if I acted in that very moment, I could transform a lifelong dream of beholding one of these creatures into a reality.

The other siren at my side still fast asleep, I jumped on our rented motorbike and fled our camp, not knowing where to go, just trying to hear that haunting song over the sound of the wind splitting the weaker branches above. I drove for three kilometers or so, slowing every few moments to make sure I was on the right track. Eventually, I knew I was close enough to park and find the source of the sound, which couldn’t have been farther than a few hundred meters from the road. No trail in sight, I entered the ostensibly impenetrable rainforest wall that towered on either side of the pavement.

I moved slowly, as silently as possible. I had spent days reading about (and in some cases seeing) the other wildlife that inhabited the park – Asian elephants, wild boar, crocodiles, and tigers. I longed to see each of them up close, but not if they saw me first. I had to be careful to avoid the leeches that plagued the jungle, waiting just above ground to latch on to anything that passed by. Their wriggling, blood-sucking bodies frightened me more than anything, but that song in the canopy above persisted, so I knew I had to as well.

Within 60 seconds I had two holes in my shoes from inch-long thorns, and four leeches somersaulting their way up my trouser leg. No blood was drawn, but I was immediately shaken, cursing myself for getting myself into such an idiotic, and possibly fruitless endeavour. Soon I found a behemoth path carved by families of Asian elephants making their memorised pilgrimage for water, food, and salt, providing me with temporary reprieve from the thorns and things itching to creep and crawl up my body. Our previous days’ sighting of a black King Cobra was burned into my mind as I climbed vines and fallen branches across streams and over the dark forest floor. I imagined locking eyes with a tiger and continuously scanned my surroundings for vines that were thick enough to bear my weight should I need to make a vertical escape, but those thin enough that a tiger would likely not be able to get a grip (as if I know anything about the subject).

I thought of turning back, but the song beckoned me forward.

I came to a clearing beneath the towering fig tree that I thought to be the source. I craned my neck upwards. The song stopped.

Minutes passed. Silence.

I was sure I had frightened them away, that they had used the opportunity of me flicking and prying away leeches to make their escape into more distant trees. I waited, standing perfectly still for nearly twenty minutes. Suddenly, movement. The swing of a branch, immediately followed by the sound of something crashing onto another. I couldn’t see it. Nothing but a sound. A movement. A fragment of my imagination. A myth. A ghost.

And then he was there. Hanging from a branch about 100 meters above ground, both arms outstretched, he hung triumphantly, calling a very different call this time, perhaps one of warning to those in the area to not come where this ground-dweller was posing a threat, or perhaps inviting others to come watch it make an ass out of itself. Jet black from head to toe, fur jutting out on either side of his white face, he howled into the air, then took flight to another branch, another tree, and another, and another. Arms, legs and tail all working together in perfect harmony to traverse even the thinnest branches, his movements every bit as magical as I always dreamed they would be.

I stood there, watching him for as long as he would allow me to, a jaw-aching smile plastered across my face. The ghost was real, and he let me take a glimpse into his life, if only for a moment. Soon, as he passed to another cluster of trees, I saw the rest of his family waiting for him, and watched them disappear, just like that. I did not touch my phone to take a photo, I just let the moment unfold. And it was, in essence, perfect.

Countless tourists and adventure-seekers flood Thailand each and every year in search of pristine beauty and enchanting wildlife. They book tour packages, arrange guides to take them to where they are most likely to be able to snap a picture of these animals they have only seen in YouTube videos or, for those of us who still own them, in pictures in a book. For me, this uncertain pursuit, which left me winded, scratched and filthy, was something more. It was an opportunity to share a moment with a creature who spoke the language of trees in a way that me and any member of my species are no longer able to do. He was in pure communion with his surroundings. When I returned to the road to get back on my bike, I didn’t feel that connection with the pavement my kind had laid down before me, and while my love for hiking and trekking takes me to many incredible soils and terrains, I long for that intimate relationship with the trees that have captivated my heart and soul for so many years.

For me, this moment with this ghost, this myth, this ancient spirit, was a glimpse into the unknown reaches of the natural world, and I felt like I understood the trees that for so long have sent me trekking through forests and jungles the whole world over in a way that I never have before. This year has brought me from the ancient baobab’s of Tanzania to the mighty redwoods of California, to the tenacious yucca trees of the Mojave Desert and finally here, to the jungles of Southeast Asia. As my quest for rootedness in this earth continues, I remain grateful and deeply humbled by every form of life I have encountered, and particularly grateful for that morning.

It is a powerful reminder of how important it is to answer whatever it is that calls to us, no matter how long or what it takes. It’s a great, big, wild and magical world out there. How much of it we see is entirely up to us.


We’ve been dreaming of this moment for months. Sitting at a guesthouse cafe, listening to the sounds of tuk-tuks crawling by outside and a drum set being tuned across the road in preparation for tonight’s open mic, books in hand, reading. Just reading. Here in Ayutthaya in central Thailand, there are dozens of ancient ruins and temples to see, monuments of the last kingdom before it was sacked by the Burmese. Yesterday we rented bicycles and lazily crawled from one temple to the next, then treated ourselves to twelve hours of solid sleep.

Today, we’re reading. Just reading. No one to visit, nothing to rush to see. This isn’t the kind of town our Lonely Planet book recommends we spend more than a day or two in, but we just paid for yet another night. Because we can. Because we can afford to do absolutely nothing. And that is the greatest treasure we could ask for right now.

After over three months of visiting family, friends and natural wonders across the United Kingdom and North America, we’re completely burned out. We’ve been completely burned out (I guess for about three months, ever since we packed up our house and moved far, far away from our lives in Uganda). When most people think of traveling around Southeast Asia, they think – as we did last year – of packing in as many temples, beaches and jungle treks as possible in whatever limited time they have in the region. For us, there is no deadline, no end-date. We are simply here.

We are simply here.

It’s hard for us to do nothing. It’s not in our nature, and thus does not come naturally to us. Our families told us time and again that we were packing far too much into our time back in the West, which we fully recognised, but we felt that we needed to see as many people and sights as possible. It was beautiful, but exhausting. We longed for this moment, when we could look across a table at each other in some wholly random place, smile, and know that we had nowhere to be, nothing to do, no one to report to.

Freedom. Absolute freedom.

Sure, the need to secure an income will come before long, as it always does in today’s world. A “money-less life” is a luxury and a privilege, and virtually a fool’s hope in our modern world. But for now, we are blessed to be able to put it on the backburner. We are blessed to simply eat and nap our way through the day. This is not a vacation, it’s just life. It’s just now. It’s just here. It’s just us.

And we couldn’t be more grateful.